Polyamorous Relationships: Are The Kids Alright?
I hadn’t met a polyamorous person until just a few years ago. I didn’t know how I felt about it to be honest. I’d heard of polyamory, but that was about it. Then I met Venessa in 2016. She was warm, engaging, caring, and a joy to be around. She quickly won my friendship. Venessa is in a relationship with another female named Fiona and a male named John. There are three children in their family. Venessa has a daughter just under a year old. Fiona has a son around two years old and a four-year old daughter. John is the father of all the children. John and Fiona were previously together, and Erica joined the relationship afterwards.
It’s obvious when you see them together that there is great love. You can also see how they adore their children. Yet there has been struggle. Venessa told me once that when she told family members about her relationship, she felt she had to “come out” with each conversation. It reminded me of how a gay person must come out over-and-over again when they talk about their partner for the first time.
When she told me this, I could see that her extended family’s reactions had caused her pain in their rejection and lack of understanding.
Getting closer to Venessa made me wonder about her kids. What was it like for them to have more than two parents? Did it have any effects on them? I have always believed that where there is love, there is the potential to raise healthy children. This has been backed up by the literature for same-sex couples for years. But what are some unique considerations that a poly family might have for their children?
It turns out that there are some benefits as well as some disadvantages to polyamorous relationships. The advantages include: emotional intimacy with children, shared resources, more personal time, more attention for the children, and more role models being present in a child’s life (Sheff, 2009). The challenges can be when kids become attached to partners who leave and the stigma of polyamory.
The emotional intimacy present between parents and child is likely due to the high level of honesty in their bond. This mirrors the honesty necessary in polyamorous relationships themselves. Partners often must have clearly defined boundaries, roles, and expectations to make the relationship work. Skilled communication is also often as necessary. Another advantage is that there is an additional adult that can provide income for the family. John is the stay at home parent. Venessa and Fiona both work. John is awesome with the kids. Another positive is that when Venessa and Fiona get home from work, John can have a break from the children. More people equals more childcare, and this is something that helps John get away for some time to unwind. Nobody gets the brunt of childrearing. This also gives the children more attention. The presence of more adults means that children have more positive role models to look up to. There is also access to non-parental trusted adults to talk with.
Yet there are challenges as well. It can be a real issue when children become attached to a partner, and there is a breakup in the family (Sheff, 2009). This can happen in monogamous families as well. One way to address this may be to not lightly introduce a partner to a child until a deeper commitment is made. Another way around it is to have it stated that once you are in a child’s life, you are in that child’s life for the foreseeable future even if there is a change in relationship status. I see this as little different than when a woman divorces a child’s step-father and a relationship with the child remains. Polyamorous individuals routinely acknowledge and express concern for the emotional danger that failed relationships can cause (Sheff,2009). Finally, the stigma of polyamory is something that Venessa feels all too well. She has expressed that there are members of her extended family that she will never expose her child to. This is a sadness for her, her child, and her family.
As a gay person, I’ve dealt with stigma. I’ve dealt with people saying that my relationships are inferior, evil, or repulsive. I dispute this and believe that where there is love, there is grace. Love is love. I cannot look at my dear friend and see her relationship as wrong. All I see is the tremendous affection present when the adults are playing with their children.
When learning about a new culture or way of life, I really try to keep an open mind. I’ll admit that I struggled with my own bias when I thought about the idea of sharing my partner with another. Yet seeing my friend’s interactions with her family showed me how such a relationship could work. There is an unselfishness and dedication to a partner’s happiness that I admire. I may not feel capable of such a situation personally, but I don’t have to be. I get to be happy for my friend. I would hope that someone would do the same for me. I would hope that we could all do this for each other.
Sheff, E. (2009). 17 Strategies in Polyamorous Parenting. In 958615631 746232380 M. Barker (Author), Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 169-181).